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Court upholds decision to turn small rural schools into six-grade schools

Blackboard.
Blackboard. Source: Ministry of Education and Research

The Tallinn Administrative Court rejected appeals against the restructuring of Koonga and Varbla schools. The court ruled, among other things, that a municipality with limited financial resources has the right to make decisions about schools that not all parents may like.

The complainants were unhappy with Lääneranna's intention to rearrange schools' educational activities and eliminate grades 7-9 next year.

The court ruled that a child has a right to a quality and accessible (basic) education (grades 1–9), but neither the parent nor the child has a right to a particular school, teacher, or building, the quality of which the complainants consider to be the best or whose teaching methods are most appropriate.

The court reached the conclusion that children's access to basic schooling would not be excessively hindered due to transportation difficulties to and from school. The document notes in the explanatory memorandum that Lihula High School will have the capacity to admit all students from schools that will be dissolved or restructured due to the decision.

The right to a quality education does not mean that a child's current educational arrangements, such as the opportunity to attend a small class, cannot change. The court emphasized that even though the optimal and highest quality education would be individual tutoring, such a system, which is essentially a private tutoring system, cannot be funded from public means.

The court holds that it is completely reasonable for a local government to organize the education network on its territory in a manner that satisfies, on the one hand, the economic interests of the community and, on the other, the economic capabilities of local governments. Due to financial constraints, the municipality has the authority to make decisions that might not be satisfactory for every parent. The municipality must also ensure that it fulfills the other tasks assigned to it by law and should not focus solely on educational needs.

The court said that local government budgeting is, to a large extent, an expression of political will, in which the court cannot interfere. If a community disagrees with local government policy decisions, budget allocations, other pragmatic decisions, and there are no other legal remedies, it can voice its opinions by standing for or voting in local council elections.

The fact that the number of children in the municipality has declined dramatically and is expected to continue to decrease is also of great public interest. The municipality's aim to pay talented teachers competitive salaries is also important.

The appeal can be lodged with the Tallinn Court of Appeal by December 20 the latest.

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Editor: Mari Peegel, Kristina Kersa

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